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Should parents boost their children now? There’s no straightforward answer.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week that 5- to 11-year-olds receive booster doses if it’s been at least five months since their first two shots of the coronavirus vaccine. While this policy simplifies federal guidance — everyone 5 and older is now recommended to receive at least one booster — it doesn’t answer the pressing question on many parents’ minds: Should their child receive the booster now, or wait until the fall?

The answer is not straightforward, and the CDC’s blanket recommendation does not adequately address the nuances of boosting younger children.

On the one hand, there is growing evidence that the inoculations should be three-dose vaccines. Across all age groups, effectiveness against symptomatic infection after two doses wanes. In adults, effectiveness against severe illness also decreases over time. That effectiveness is restored after a third dose.

In studies of the 5- to 11-year-old age group, too few vaccinated individuals became severely ill to conclude that a third dose would further reduce hospitalization or death. However, a third dose substantially increased antibody levels, which, in all other age cohorts, correlated with protection against severe illness.

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